next graduation speech

Zadie Smith

Novelist
New School University |May 23, 2014

Hold on to that desire for human connection. Don’t let anyone scare you out of it.”


MANY HANDS, Speech Excerpts

"I speak in favor of recognizing our place within the many, not only as a slogan - much less as a personal sacrifice - but rather as a potential source of joy in your life," she said. "The climate. The economy. The sick relationship between the individual prestige of the First World and the anonymity of the Third. These are things only many hands can fix, working together."

"Generations are defined by the projects they take on together.” 

“It feels good to give your unique and prestigious selves a slip every now and then and confess your membership in this unwieldy collective called the human race.”

“Here is a perhaps silly example. It happened to me recently at my mother’s birthday. Around midnight it came time to divide out the rum cake … for it was the duty of the daughter to hand out cake … And it was while doing what I hadn’t realized was my duty that I felt what might be described as the exact opposite of the sensation I have standing in front of you now. Not puffed up with individual prestige, but immersed in the beauty of the crowd. Connected if only in gesture to an ancient line of practical women working in companionable silence in the service of their community. It’s such a ludicrously tiny example of the collective action and yet clearly still so rare in my own life that even this minor instance of it struck me.” 

"Walk down these crowded streets with a smile on your face. Be thankful you get to walk so close to other humans. It’s a privilege. Don’t let your fellow humans be alien to you, and as you get older and perhaps a little less open than you are now, don’t assume that exclusive always and everywhere means better. It may only mean lonelier. There will always be folks hard selling you the life of the few: the private schools, private plans, private islands, private life. They are trying to convince you that hell is other people. Don’t believe it. We are far more frequently each other’s shelter and correction, the antidote to solipsism, and so many windows on this world.”

More excerpts at: Bustle.com

Posted on: 10/28/14

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